For three quarters, Paso Robles High’s Bailey Gaither and company exhilarated the Bearcats’ faithful Friday.
Playing against a Hart team that was ranked in the top 20 in the state at one point this season by MaxPreps.com, the Bearcats probably weren’t supposed to match the Indians score for score.
The Bearcats (8-4) played evenly with Hart (9-3) for three quarters but were outscored 21-0 in the fourth to fall 56-35 at War Memorial Stadium in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs.
For the first half, it looked like anyone’s game to seize as Paso Robles’ Parker Gray intercepted two passes from standout Hart quarterback Brady White, who has passed for more than 3,200 yards this season.
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After a scoreless first quarter, which included a failed fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line for Paso Robles, the half ended in a whirlwind of scoring action for both teams.
Gaither was a blur on the field, hauling in a 34-yard pass from Gunnar Griffin with 1:40 left in the second quarter, and then tearing loose for a 91-yard kickoff return to put Paso Robles ahead 21-14 about a minute later.
Once Gaither saw daylight about midfield, he turned on the afterburners and left the Hart special teams defenders in the dust.
“I try to take advantage of my opportunities,” Gaither said. “I got some great blocking and then I just ran as hard as I could. It was pretty cool.”
Gaither finished with 188 yards receiving on six catches, including a 74-yard touchdown on a catch, spin and dash up the sideline in the third quarter.
But unfortunately for the Bearcats, as fast as they were scoring, Hart came right back each time to punch in their points.
White — who has attracted Pac-12 program recruiting interest — connected with his top target, Trent Irwin, for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds left, and then a 34-yard strike over the outstretched hands of a leaping Bearcat with nine second left to tie the score at 21 going into the half.
White finished with 216 yards on 20-for-27 passing and four touchdowns with two interceptions.
In the third quarter, Bearcats running back Nathanial Harris notched his second touchdown of the evening with a 1-yard score. Harris finished with 84 yards rushing.
But in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats seemed to run out of steam and gave up three scores, including an interception return from midfield, while failing to move the chains as they did in the first three quarters.
Griffin, the Bearcats’ junior quarterback, had one of his best passing games of the season, completing 12 of 24 passes for 260 yards with two passing touchdowns and an interception.
“We played with guts and determination,” Paso Robles coach Rich Schimke said. “For three quarters, we were right there with them. We just ran out of gas. … I’m so proud of our seniors. More than half didn’t start today, and they sacrificed for the betterment of the team.”